Philip IV

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Philip IV, “the Fair” (1268-1314), king of France (1285-1314) already ruled Navarre and Champagne through his marriage to Joan, the heiress of the two regions, when he succeeded his father, Philip III, thus expanding both the area and the power of the kingdom.

His reign was one of the most tumultuous in French medieval history, with events on a number of fronts that would affect history. These include:

  • The war with England for control of the wealthy Gascony between 1294 and 1297 had ramifications beyond the borders of that region and played a part in the events leading to the Wars of Scottish Independence that would plague Britain for years.
  • The struggle with Pope Boniface VIII over Philip’s right to tax French clergy was partly brought about by the cost of the war in Gascony. After Philip cut off all church revenue in 1296 the pope capitulated. Things warmed up again in 1301 after the arrest of a bishop, with a papal bull setting out the popes right’s in the matter, threats of excommunication, and the “arrest” of the pope himself by French forces in 1303. Boniface died shortly after.
  • Boniface’s successor, Clement, was French, who, in 1309, moved the ''Curia'' to Avignon in south-east France, so beginning the so-called “Babylonian captivity”, or Avignon papacy, of French (and French controlled) popes which was to last until 1377.
  • The destruction during 1312-1314 of the crusading order of Knights Templar throughout France was prompted by Philip’s fear of the Order’s power and his desire for their wealth and enabled by his influence over the pope. Charged with heresy and other crimes admitted under torture, in 1314 the Grand-master and 53 other senior Templars were burned, and the Order’s assets transferred to the Knights Hospitaller (after hefty “debts” were forwarded to Philip.)
  • Twice during his reign Philip attempted to bring the rich towns of Flanders (which traditionally had enjoyed close trade ties with England) under French control. His first foray ended with his defeat at the Battle of the Golden Spurs (also known as the Battle of Courtrai) in 1302. A second attempt in 1314 was stymied by broad discontent amongst his own nobility at the additional taxation required to fund the war.

Philip was the last important king of the Capetian line. He had three sons, each of which died shortly after assuming the throne. This break in “natural” succession was to be the major cause of the Hundred Years' War. A daughter, Isobella, married Edward II of England. In the last year of Philip’s life a scandal erupted at the French court with the wives of all three of his sons being caught in allegedly adulterous relationships. Philip solved the problem by having their lovers executed.

Philip’s sobriquet, “the Fair” is more a comment on his looks than his dealings.


"Plantagenet Encyclopedia" ed. Elizabeth Hallam 1990